At the peak of the 2000’s ‘Torture Porn‘ craze, Australian director Greg McLean (Rogue, The Belko Experiment) released Wolf Creek. Despite its modest box office success, critics were divided by the movie’s extremely graphic violence. Far removed from silly slasher violence, Wolf Creek shared more DNA with New French Extremity movies like High Tension, Martyrs, and Frontier(s). It also likely benefited from its ‘based on a true story’ angle. Certainly one of the more intense horror movies in recent memory, Wolf Creek beget a sequel and a limited TV series, .
British backpackers, Liz and and Kristy, are trekking across Australia with their new Australian friend, Ben. After a night of partying, the trio decide to visit a giant meteor crater at Wolf Creek National Park. But when they return to their car, they discover that their watches have stopped and the car won’t start. Stuck in the middle of nowhere after dark, a local, Mick Taylor, shows up and offers a ride. Mick drives for hours before arriving at his home by an abandoned, remote mine. No sooner than they’ve arrived, Mick offers the backpackers drugged water. When the trio wake up, they find themselves separated, trapped, and hunted by a very dangerous Mick.
Wolf Creek Pulls No Punches
The Saw franchise made its money from its bone-crunching, bloodletting traps. Yet the Saw movies felt far removed from reality in no small part due to their outlandish stories. Eli Roth’s movies revel in Grindhouse aesthetics and violence, but typically dish out that violence with some dark humour. Comparatively, Wolf Creek is an extremely violent movie that roots its horror in world that feels very real. Both the violent acts and imagery display a level of cruelty supported by visceral practical effects. Images of mangled corpses linger in the background while the movie’s villain taunts and threatens a bound victim.
… Wolf Creek is an extremely violent movie that roots its horror in world that feels very real.
Unlike Roth, who often playfully winks at audiences with his violence, director Greg McLean offers the audience no escape or outlet. Whether its Kristy bound and gagged in a garage or Ben waking to find himself crucified in a mine shaft, Wolf Creek makes you feel trapped with its victims. One scene that references a ‘head on a stick’ qualifies as one of the more squeamish horror movie scenes in the last decade or so. Don’t expect quick edits to cut away from what’s happening. McLean pulls no punches, and Wolf Creek is all the more disturbing for it.
Slow Start Gives Way to a Relentless Second Half
Wolf Creek takes its time, but once it gets to where it was always going, McLean never lets up. Though Wolf Creek has a few jump scare moments, most of its horror is generated from the sheer terror of the characters’ plights. On the one hand, Wolf Creek shares the same Grindhouse-inspired exploitative violence of Roth and Rob Zombie movies. But that’s where the similarities end. Unlike Roth and Zombie, McLean generates a lot of suspense from the depravity and relentless of what’s happening. You’re pulling for the young characters even though you know they’re likely lost causes.
Sympathetic Characters and a Compelling Villain
Some horror fans may take issue with Wolf Creek’s slow pacing in its first half. Contrary to its ‘Torture Porn’ and slasher companions, McLean opts for a slow-burn approach. In the movie’s opening 30 minutes or so, the audience gets to spend time with its trio of protagonists, getting to know them. Liz, Kristy, and Ben are genuinely likable protagonists. As characters, the trio are relatable and feel like real people. As a result, the early build-up makes what follows all the more horrific.
Mick Taylor is scary because he feels like a ‘real monster’.
Aside from its extreme violence, Wolf Creek gets a big boost from its villain, Mick Taylor. Aussie character actor, John Jarratt, makes Mick one of the scariest horror movie villains in years. Jarratt’s ‘Mick Taylor’ is a misogynistic, volatile psychopath. Much of the movie’s horror emerges from Taylor’s quick shifts in demeanor. Friendly local one second, quietly off-putting the next, and then fully enraged. All at a moment’s notice. Mick Taylor doesn’t trade in clever quips. Neither does he orchestrate unnecessarily complicated deaths that firmly place him in the fictional world. Mick Taylor is scary because he feels like a ‘real monster’.
Wolf Creek A Gut-Punch of a Horror Experience
Similar to the New French Extremity movies from the 2000’s, Wolf Creek won’t appeal to all horror fans. It’s an intense, relentless and extremely violent movie that disturbs as much as it scares. While Wolf Creek boasts quite a lot of suspense in its second half, McLean has made a movie that’s likely to upset many of its viewers. But for horror fans that can stomach the explicit violence, Wolf Creek is one of the more intense horror movies that stood out from much of what the 2000’s produced in the genre.